Authors: Thomas Lovell Beddoes

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English poet and playwright

Author Works


The Improvisatore, 1821

The Poems, Posthumous and Collected, of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1851

The Poetical Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1890

The Poems of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1907

Selected Poems, 1976


The Bride’s Tragedy, pr., pb. 1822

Death’s Jest-Book, pb. 1850


The Letters of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1894


The Complete Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1928

The Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes, 1935 (H.W. Donner, editor)


Thomas Lovell Beddoes (BEHD-ohz), son of a well-known British physician, Dr. Thomas Beddoes, was also the nephew of Maria Edgeworth, the novelist. He was educated at Charterhouse and Pembroke College, Oxford.{$I[AN]9810000702}{$I[A]Beddoes, Thomas Lovell}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Beddoes, Thomas Lovell}{$I[tim]1803;Beddoes, Thomas Lovell}

At Oxford, Beddoes read widely in Elizabethan poetry and drama. In 1821, he published The Improvisatore, a volume which already shows Beddoes’s preoccupation with death, the gothic, and the grotesque. This volume was followed by The Bride’s Tragedy, which established him as a poetic dramatist working in the traditions of the Jacobean drama.

The Bride’s Tragedy, in its lyrics and its dramatic blank verse, shows a great advance over The Improvisatore. Beddoes took his degree at Oxford a year late, in 1825, having been called to Italy during his examinations the previous year because of his mother’s fatal illness. In 1825 he left England to study medicine in Göttingen, Germany. Beddoes took his medical degree at Wurzburg in 1832. During the years of his medical study he worked on Death’s Jest-Book, completing it in its initial form as early as 1829. He also became involved in radical German politics. Because of this activity, Beddoes was forced to leave Bavaria shortly after taking his medical degree in 1832, and he took up residence in Zurich, Switzerland. He became involved in politics there and was forced to flee Zurich for Berlin in 1840. Then came a period of wandering. He practiced medicine at various places and, in 1846, visited England briefly, where he revealed himself as having become highly eccentric. He also continued to work on his poetry and plays, including revisions of Death’s Jest-Book. In July, 1848, he attempted suicide at Basel, by cutting open an artery in his leg. He survived this attempt, although he lost his leg. Six months later a second attempt, this time by poison, was successful. His suicide was kept a secret for many years, but more recently biographers have uncovered the evidence which proves that he took his own life. In obedience to Beddoes’s written wishes, Thomas Forbes Kelsall, a long-time friend of the poet, published Death’s Jest-Book in 1850, the year after the author’s death. Death’s Jest-Book is a sprawling poetic drama which is weak in character and structure but which contains blank verse, dramatic prose, and lyrics of great power and beauty. Most of Beddoes’s work shows his obsession with death and horror, but this work expresses the macabre with a verbal vitality that borders on greatness. Beddoes belonged to the last generation of English Romantic poets, which included George Darley, Hartley Coleridge, and Thomas Wade. Like these poets, Beddoes shows an interesting blend of talent and failure, artistic originality and insecurity.

BibliographyDonner, H. W. The Browning Box: Or, The Life and Works of Thomas Lovell Beddoes. London: Oxford University Press, 1935. A collection of letters about Beddoes’s life and poetry, by friends and admirers. The odd title refers to the box of materials given to Robert Browning after Beddoes’s death.Donner, H. W. Thomas Lovell Beddoes: The Making of a Poet. Oxford, England: Basil Blackwell, 1935. This comprehensive study of Beddoes’s life and times balances biography with literary interpretation. Contains an informative introduction on nineteenth century theater and the influence of Elizabethan drama on Romantic poetry. A conclusion summarizes Beddoes’s aesthetics. Illustrated.Snow, Royall H. Thomas Lovell Beddoes: Eccentric and Poet. New York: Covici-Friede, 1928. This early biographical study concentrates on the poet’s morbidity as his defining characteristic. Somewhat dated, especially in the ways it deals with the literature. Contains an annotated bibliography of Beddoes’s books and periodical publications.Thompson, James R. Thomas Lovell Beddoes. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A useful critical introduction to Beddoes. Includes a brief biography, a chronology, and a selected bibliography. Follows Beddoes’s career from the early poems of Shelleyan and gothic derivation, through his growing interest in Jacobean drama and his satiric verse dramas, to his mature work obsessed with death.Watkins, Daniel P. “Thomas Lovell Beddoes’ The Bride’s Tragedy and the Situation of Romantic Drama.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 29 (Autumn, 1989): 699-712. Considers Beddoes’s poetic drama as a work of gothic horror on the order of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). Watkins uses historical analysis to show that Beddoes’s concerns are less a throwback to Jacobean drama than an essentially Romantic “desire for a return to an aristocratic feudal” order.
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